Robert Tanitch’s Round-Up of Books No 3 (2017)
Gustav Klimt (Taschen £49.99). The Complete Works includes drawings and letters. Klimt polarized and divided the art world with his beautiful fin de siècle women, idealised, charming, amoral, erotic femmes fatales. The lush decoration, the dark symbolism, the human allegory, the intense patterns, the amazing mosaic friezes and the heady landscapes are overwhelming. The sheer power of the image and the colour is extremely seductive. This beautiful book, superbly illustrated, a scholarly standard work of reference, is, truly amazing.
William Blake Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Complete Drawings (Taschen £30). For those planning a visit to hell, there are no better guides than Dante, Virgil and Blake. No need to abandon all hope, ye who enter here. This is a magnificent book. These pencil sketches and watercolours, awesome in their despair, were created during the last four years of his life. Blake matches Dante’s intellect; but he takes an infinitely more personal and symbolic approach. There are long queues of naked wretches, condemned to plagues and torments by rain, fire and ice at every ring and station. The high spot of any tour will be witnessing the punishment of Pope Nicolas III for simony. Only the lucky ones will get to Purgatory, Lethe and Paradise.
Botero by Mariana Hanstein (Taschen £9.99) is the latest in Taschen’s excellent, very accessible and bargain-priced Basic Art Series. Botero’s corpulent comic style is good for a laugh. I still remember the very first time I inadvertently came across his statues in a park in Monte Carlo and did a double-take. Botero allows us to see the larger picture, obese, sensuous, innocent, and childish. His naked women tower above puny men. The overblown, balloon-like, well-rounded flesh and the tiny autistic faces are amusingly grotesque. His takes on iconic paintings are witty jokes, too.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Art of the Four by Roger Billcliffe (Frances Lincoln £40). The Glasgow Style flourished in the 1880s and 1890s. The key figures – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Herbert McNair and Frances Macdonald – were known as The Four. They were active until 1914 and their paintings, metal works, posters, furniture, lettering and decorative panels influenced the Viennese Art Nouveau movement. Symbolists will be won over and lovers of Celtic fairy imagery will be enchanted. BIllclife’s richly illustrated study will be the perfect preparation for those intending to attend the major exhibitions in 2018 in Glasgow and overseas which will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth.
Bittersweet by Noma Bar (Thames & Hudson £29.95). Noma Bar is one of the great modern illustrators and this amazing 15-year back catalogue of personal and commissioned work is a wonderful reference and source book. Deceptively simple, minimalist and brightly coloured, his art work, incisive, provocative, witty, brilliantly inventive, has an immediate impact. The images printed large are a knock-out. The book, satirically and politically, is a page-turning delight.
Jasper Johns Pictures within Pictures 1980-2015 (Thames & Hudson £45). This richly illustrated volume is a detailed study of this great American artist’s highly personal use of appropriation – da Vinci, Duchamp, Grunewald, Cezanne, Picasso. His work, calculating and impetuous, abstract and representational, conceptual and sensual, rich in poetic symbols, addresses such themes as spirituality, life and death. High spots include The Seasons, Green Angel, Mirror’s Edge, Catenaries and Regrets.
Georgia O’keeffe at Home by Alicia Inez Guzman (Frances Lincoln £25). O’Keeffe (1887-1981), a pioneer of Modernism in the USA, famed for her abstract drawings and watercolours, took her inspiration from the desert memento mori: bleached animal bones and skulls (from cows, deer, horses and antelopes) and flowers. Home can be Texas (“Train at Night in the Desert”), New York City (“Radiator Building”), Lake George (“Storm Clouds”) and Mexico (“Charma River”). The art work is set alongside contemporary photographs from her personal archive. The photograph of her in old age is particularly striking.